Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Raise Awareness #3: Afghanistan

I promised a post on Afghanistan, as I was trying to understand the background of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. I decided to make this a 'Raise Awareness' post. This is a brief history of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan or, better said, a history of recent invasions of Afghanistan.

For some reason, Afghanistan has always been conquered by other people, but not without resistance from the Afghans. Alexander The Great (IV century B.C.) and Jenghis Khan (XIII century) were some conquerors of the distant past, but there were many more.
Afghanistan was under British influence during the 19th century (remember that British India is just around the corner) and it gained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. After that, there was a period of relative stability (1933-1973) under the King Zahir Shah. When British India was partitioned in 1947, Afghanistan wanted the Pashtuns (the most important and powerful ethnicity of Afghan people) of the North-West Frontier Province of British India to be able to choose their fate. Britain only offered the choice of joining Pakistan or joining India, and they chose the former. In 1955, Afghanistan urged the creation of an autonomous Pashtunistan, but the issue was dropped (it was revived by Afghanistan in 1972 when Pakistan was weakened by the loss of East Pakistan - now Bangladesh - and the war with India). Tensions with Pakistan over the border and other issues are frequent since then.
1973 – coup led by Zahir Shah’s brother-in-law and then revolution led by the democratic party. Afghanistan becomes a republic and Taraki is president. Freedom of religion, land reform and women rights were introduced. Religiously conservative Afghans were against the reforms.
1979 – The USA saw the situation in Afghanistan as a possibility to weaken the Soviet Union. As part of a Cold War strategy, the US began to fund anti-government forces (mujaheddin) through the Pakistani intelligence. Hafizullah Amin took over as Prime Minister and Taraki was killed. Soviet occupation, which resulted in the killings of at least 600,000 to 2 millions Afghan civilians. Over 5 million fled the country to Pakistan, Iran and the rest of the world.
The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. The USA lost interest in Afghanistan and did little to help to rebuild the war-ravaged country. Warlords gained power and the Taliban (a militia of Pashtun Islamic fundamentalists students supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) developed as a politico-religious force, first seizing the capital Kabul in 1996 and eventually the rest of the country. Restrictions of freedom and violation of human rights occurred during the Taliban’s seven-year rule.
In 1998, as the Taliban appeared on the verge of taking over the whole country, U.S. missiles destroyed what was described by the Pentagon as an extensive terrorist training complex near Kabul run by Osama bin Laden, accused of masterminding the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The US then imposed economic sanctions on Afghanistan allegedly because the country refused to turn over Bin Laden. In early 2001 the Taliban destroyed all statues in the nation, including two ancient Buddhas in Bamian, because they regarded them as idolatrous and un-Islamic.
In late 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, the USA invaded Afghanistan to destroy the Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps inside the country. Hamid Karzai was chosen as the interim president of Afghansitan and free elections were held in 2005. The Taliban where largely defeated, but the country itself reverted to the control of the regional warlords who held power before the Taliban. In 2006 NATO took command of all peacekeeping forces in the country. In May 2007 NATO forces killed the top Taliban field commander, Mullah Dadullah, but Taliban forces mounted some guerrilla attacks on the outskirts of the capital Kabul. Also, there has been fighting between rival factions in various parts of the country, for instance Uzbek and Tajik militia groups in the north.
The country continues to struggle with poverty, Taliban insurgency, threats from the Al-Qaeda, large concentration of land mines and a huge illegal poppy cultivation and opium trade. Reconstruction is proceeding slowly and the country is in urgent need of international aid. There's still much to do!

For some recent dramatic events in Afghanistan see Clauds' s post answering to her good-for-nothing reporter based in the country.

PS: I coundn't resist uploading the picture of this Afghan refugee taken by Steve McCurry in 1985. The picture became one of the most famous covers of National Geographic and one of the most famous portraits in the world.


  1. good job Stef!

    actually afghanistan's is a coplicated situation and it is even difficult to find good essays on it.
    american and pakistani funds started to feed the mujahedeen juat after the soviet invasion of 1979, when urss installed the communist najibullah as the country's president.
    this period is the key to understand the mess going on up to date since it is also the moment when saudi arabia started to establish training camps in afghanistan and to fund the building of radical mosques with saudi imam in pakistan (especially in peshawar area, where most of the afghan refugees lives) to brainwash the young afghan refugees with ideas of a "blessed jihad against the miscredents".

    i think usa asked for bin laden in 2001, just after the 9/11 events, but mullah omar (the leader of taliban militia and head of afghanistan at that time) refused because obl had been clever enough to "befriended" him through the killing of ahmed shah massoud (the hero of afghan resistence against soviet union and the biggest enemy of the taliban "government").

    ahahah, i was laughing when i've read the end of your post...
    actually the "good-for-nothing reporter" is my on/off boyfriend (an afghan!)...
    he gave me a book called "the afghan" by frederik forsyth (i think the author is called like this, but i can't remember): well, it's this kind of stupid cia bestsellers, but if you get rid of all the conspiracy part there are good points in which he explains the history of afghanistan.

    keep up the good work! ;-)



  2. I did understand that the good-for-nothing reporter, a translation of "l'inviato cazzone", was your on-off boyfriend from Afghanistan... I liked the expression so much that I had to quote it! :-)